The Business Planning Process

Michael Gallagher, .

Man standing on a rainbowWhat do you want? Where do you want to be in three years? This isn’t a question owners and executives have a ready answer for because they are too busy running their businesses. We have to pull it out of them, and to do this we need to go through a detailed business planning process. The plan is everything, so it’s where we start.

We need an accurate, deep understanding of what clients want; we know it’s in there, and with prompts and conversation, it will come to the surface. Oftentimes, a business owner’s first response is what is immediately in front of him; today’s number one problem is the number one problem of the business. Maybe. Maybe not!

The planning process forces them to focus longer term:

  • What if we’re having this conversation in three years?
  • What would have had to happen in the interim to make you happy with the results? Where do you really want your company to be, whether financially or measured against some other metric?

The plan becomes a roadmap of how they will get there, but how do we get to the plan?

Step One: Interview

This is our version of information. We sit with the prospective clients, usually in their own office. The conversation can be as short as 45 minutes, but in that time, we’re looking to see what the client wants and if he/she is interested in what we could do for them. We have to delve into their dreams, and if they’re willing to open up to us about those visions (and not everyone is), that is a good indicator that we can work with them. We take the time to ask other questions that drill down into objectives to see if they have a full understanding of the issues in front of them.

This step is essential because the process isn’t for everyone. If we, or they, determine there really is no connection there, everyone has only invested an hour or so. They have to see the possibilities, and we have to see the potential.

Step Two: Planning Session

Now we get serious. With the now-client, we go through a detailed planning session. Depending on the size and complexity of the company, this can go from a minimum of 3 to 4 hours to a full day session. It is a customized process, but we both have specific outcomes we need. We cover all aspects of the client’s business: production, HR, financials, marketing, sales. Everything. We’re looking for their processes. If a company is doing something and doesn’t have a process in place, there is ample opportunity for it to go off the rails and this is what we’re looking for.

Sounds like a lot of work? The work’s just beginning.

What’s Next?

That’s up to you. The client’s commitment to the process could end right here. Initially, you are not agreeing to implementation, but that’s the outcome we’d like! No, it’s really the outcome that would serve you best. If you do choose to go forward, we have a commitment to come in on a regular basis to facilitate the process. You can discontinue service at any time, but often, the first successes lead to an increased motivation to stay the course and keep realizing your objectives.

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Michael Gallagher

Mike Gallagher, President of Michael Gallagher Advisory, has spent the past 20 years helping small business owners and managers develop and implement strategic business plans, achieve sustainable, targeted growth and solve the problems that keep them up at night.